Missing Man

Missing Man

         If I have a pack at home there is no way I can control my urge to light one up although I have quit smoking years ago. Only avid smokers understand this nuisance urge and the ensued guilty pleasure. My strategy to combat this urge is simply not to buy a pack but to bum one on occasion. As lousy and as pathetic this approach may seem, it works, last time I purchased a pack of cigarette was three months ago. Losing self respect in the process is the tradeoff.

         And when I don’t find a smoking individual, I surrender to my urges and purchase a pack. To control this bad habit, I hide more than half of the pack in the most unusual places hoping to forget where they were when I need one.  To make the discovery of the treasure more difficult, sometimes I twirl in place long enough to get dizzy then I fling the cigarettes. Many land in the most inconspicuous corners of the room virtually impossible to recover.  And in desperate moments I get into the search and discovery mode and ransack the house as long as it takes cursing myself under the breath until I find one. I induce the dizziness so I can set up a solitary game of hide and seek to provide a harmful pleasure after an agonizing search; well, that’s just pathetic.  

         Last week after ransacking my apartment for half an hour to find a cigarette, I gave up and found myself in 7-Eleven waiting in line.  Three customers were ahead of me with only one attendant on duty. the first customer behind the counter paid for two bars of candy and a lottery ticket. The next one paid for twenty dollars worth of gas on pump four. The doubt of purchasing a pack came back as I watched the customer ahead of me stepped closer to the counter and asked for a pack of Marlboro light, the brand I like. As the he concluded his transaction, in the nick of time I changed my mind, turned around and walked out of the store following him.

         “Do you mind selling me two of your cigarettes?” I asked the man holding a dollar bill up in the air.

         “Well, yeah why not.” The man responded after a pause.

         “I don’t want to buy a pack.” 

         “I hear you.” He chuckled while removing the cellophane wrapper.

         “You’re my savior,” I said.

         This was not the first time I engaged in such unusual transactions, I found it to be a tad more dignified than bumming a cigarette.  One out of five people whom I pitched this deal, refused to accept the money and offered me one for gratis, he was not one of them, after all it was a lucrative transaction.   

         I sat in the car feeling proud of myself for not giving in to temptation and drove away. Now I had two killer reasons to celebrate life. I drove to a nearby park to light the first one and puff away moments of leisure embraced by the serenity of nature.  I sat on a bench in the deserted park gazing at vivacious leaves raining down from the denuding trees. In a minute a cigarette was lit and I was contemplating the mystery of life in vertigo induced by burning tobacco.

         As I was scanning across the shivering trees listening to the sound of flowing water in the creek I noticed an object on the bench about thirty yards away. First I thought it was an envelope of sort probably filled with empty cups of soda and a hamburger wrappers so I ignored the insignificant object at distance but the nagging curiosity got the better of me and the moment I finished smoking I walked closer to see what it was. I had found a stylish beige corduroy jacket with light brown quilted lining, the very type I really wanted and never got around to purchase.

         On several occasions I’d seen similar jackets in trendy stores in the mall and as tempted as I was to buy one, the high sticker price always convinced me otherwise.  And now my favorite jacket could be mine, an unexpected gift I could not ignore. I held it up in the air before my eyes to see if it was the right size, it didn’t seem to be. I decided to try it on but to do that I had to take off my zipper-less jacket and that‘s was not something I would dare to do in a cold windy autumn day outdoor. I put the jacket back on the bench and hastily gazed around to spot a witness, none found.  Quickly I grabbed the jacket and ran off to my car feeling guilty in doing so. What if someone saw me? What if the owner showed up and caught me walking off with his jacket. Like a shoplifter I sprinted off the scene with the merchandise under my arm.  I was hyperventilating when I sat in the car wondering if the respiratory complication was caused by smoking or by the immoral possession.

         I pulled out of the parking in hurry and fled the scene back to my apartment. The moment arrived, eagerly I took off my jacket and tried the newly found one and as much as it looked good on me it was a little too tight.

         God damn it, I shrieked as I was pacing back and forth. What do I do know?  

         Desperately I searched all four pockets hoping to find money or something valuable to at least make this sordid affair worthwhile; nothing.

         I sat down on the porch and smoked the second cigarette wondering what to do next. I could throw the jacket away but it didn’t seem the right thing to do, it was too nice to end up in the trash. I even thought of selling it in a garage sale but I never had enough items worth the hassle of putting up signs in the streets and sitting in the garage the entire day to get rid of a few junks besides how much could I get for the damn thing, five, ten bucks?

         I cursed myself for about ten minutes using various expletives for not knowing what to do next.  I could not go to sleep tonight with the jacket in my possession;  I had to take care of it one way or another so I finally decided to go back to the park and put the item where I’d found it hoping the owner would come back and retrieve it. Damn my luck. Why did you bring it home? Self deprecation always triggers my craving for smoking.  

         With a heavy heart I drove back to the park and before I stepped out of the car I scouted the area making sure no one was present. The park was as empty as I left it twenty minutes ago. I grabbed the jacket and climbed the steep mound blanketed in beige dead grass and as I reached the bench, I noticed a man staring at me with a stack of paper in his hand taking notes. Cautiously I stepped closer to the bench avoiding his gaze not knowing how to react to his ominous presence and gently placed the jacket back on the bench.

         “You took my jacket.”  He lashed out at me pointing to the jacket on the bench.

         “No. I didn’t take it, my nephew did by mistake. I just brought it back.” I was flustered under his inquisitive gaze.

         “You brought it back because it was not the right fit.” He was measuring glancing me top to bottom.

         “As… as I said my nephew grabbed it by mistake half hour ago and when we got home he realized it was not his. So, I brought it back hoping its owner would come back and collect it.”

         “Don’t you know this belongs to a missing person? He was wearing this jacket last he was seen. This is his jacket.” He scribbled on his papers. 

         “I just found this jacket half hour ago, I told you.” I held my hands up in the air. 

         “Didn’t you just say it was your nephew who picked it up?” He pulled his cell phone out of his shirt’s pocket.

         “Well…, I…, I didn’t expect…,” words were drooling out of my mouth.

         “Write here what happened to the missing man.” He was pointing at his papers.

         “What missing man? You just said you’re the owner and here is your damn jacket.”

         He extended his hand offering the papers to me.

         “Everything is documented here.” He shouted.

         “I told you the truth, not about my nephew but the rest was absolutely true, I swear.”

         “The only thing you told me about this jacket was who found it and that turned out to be a lie.”   He pulled a pen out of his pocket and handed it to me.

         ”Here; make sure the information on this form is as accurate as possible and sign it.”

         “Are you out of your mind, I will not fill out the damn form.”

         “Then I turn you in right now.”

         As he started pressing numbers on his phone, I picked up a broken branch and hit him on the wrist.

         “I didn’t do anything you son of a bitch,” I shrieked.

         The sudden blow caused him to fall off the bench and as a result his cell phone was thrown off his grip right into the stream of water. For a moment I decided to get in my car and flee then I thought he could later identify my car or even remember the license plate number so I ran away from the maniac into the wooded area as fast as I could. Not a minute later I heard the crunching noise of leaves behind me; I turned back seeing him running after me holding his injured hand under his left arm.  As I was zigzagging through the trees and jumping over the broken branches; I turned back a few times and shouted, “Leave me alone! I just found the jacket.”

         “Just sign the paper and make sure the information is accurate. As a matter of fact in light of your recent assault you must make another statement…” he yelled back.

         “What assault?” I screamed.

         He waved his bloody hand in the air. ”This,” he shouted, “Explain your side of story. Write from the moment you found the jacket and then how we met.   There are enough blank pages.”

         “I’m not going to sign anything you goddamn fuck. I’m running because I don’t know what to do.  Remember if I see no other options, I will turn around and take you down. Do you understand that you lunatic?”

         “By the way, your statement needs to be notarized.”

         “Don’t tempt me. God knows I have weak resistance to temptation.”

         “This entire affair must to be documented, sign the form and make the statement. You can get it notarized tomorrow morning in the bank on the corner, no cost involved.  It only takes a few minutes of your time.”

         “I will certainly not do that.”

         “Your fingerprints are all over the evidence.”

         My heart was pounding out of my chest. He was right. As bizarre as the story of the missing man was, after what had happened so far, I had a lot of explaining to do if this incident was reported. With my prior conviction, I would be tried for theft and assault to say the least. I stopped and hunched over catching a breath and then turned back. He was about twenty steps from me slouching with his bleeding hand raised in the air and pieces of paper clutched in the other.

         “I told you I had nothing to do with the missing man. You are not missing God damn it. And I didn’t steal your jacket. Please leave me alone, please.”

         “Oh! I’m missing alright.” His haunting laughter echoed in the woods.

         I staggered toward him scanning the ground looking for a sturdy branch to put an end to this charade.

         “You’re leaving me no choice,” I pleaded.

         I was now waving a huge club in my hand.

         “There is no turning back now, for neither of us. Let’s put an end to this,” he shrieked. 

         ” For the last time; I’m warning you, please forget all about this, I don’t want to hurt you.”

         “Make the statement and tell the story as it happened, in your own words.”

         “What is with you and the paperwork?” I shouted as I stepped closer. He was now in the striking distance.

         “Everything must be properly documented, every ...”

         I didn’t let him finish his sentence. He collapsed with the first blow to his head. His rasping voice wallowed in his blood under my feet. His prized forms and documents danced away in the crisp autumn breeze. I was standing over his bleeding torso watching his darling papers fly away. The tall trees shed a vibrant shroud of leaves on the fallen bureaucrat and I waded out of his morbid destiny to rescue myself from the misery he was bound to inflict upon me.

         I ran away holding my aching head between the two palms of my hands, stormed through the shivering trees until I reached the banks of a silent pond. The face of the dark hibernating water was tainted with large spots of algae ornamented with countless water lilies. A turtle submerged from water struggled to climb up a rock as a capricious frog leaped on the flowers of swamp.  I sat down on a broken branch. The sun had already set below the horizon yet its crimson whisper was showcasing my crime on the twilight of the pond.

             An hour past and all I could hear was the songs of crickets woven in the bitter cold lullaby of the autumn.  I circled the large pond in the night to avoid the crime scene and returned to my car. The jacket was blown off the bench and stuck on the thorny bushes. I could not leave the jacket where it was. As the missing man said it had my fingerprints all over and I could not leave the body unattended in the woods.

             I opened the trunk and grabbed the emergency flashlight and walked uphill and took the jacket off the bush. Darkness was bliss. I had to take care of everything tonight, the daylight was my nemesis. I rushed back into the woods with the light in my hand. The beam of light meandered through trees, I stumbled over broken twigs and stumped crunchy leaves until I reached the body; it was still warm.

             “What the hell did you want from me?” I pounded on the corpse sobbing, “What do I do with you now? Tell me how to get rid of you. You’re supposed to be missing, you cannot be found. Do you expect me to document your burial too?”

             The cadaver didn’t respond.

             I dragged his body to a ditch and shoved him in noticing a small cave under a huge fallen tree trunk inside the ditch. I jumped in, sat down next to the body and with two feet shoved the bastard inside the hole and covered him with his jacket. With my bare hands I shoveled dirt on his body and covered the opening with branches, plenty of leaves and twigs and climbed out of the trench.

             As I trudged behinds the flashlight, the light shone on a piece of paper on the ground. I was so anxious to find out why this man was so infatuated with these damn papers; so, I picked up the paper but it flew away by the gust of wind. Hysterically I followed the page until the paper stopped right next to the other pages of the document. I collected all the pages and fled the cursed woods. When I sat in my car I noticed my hands and my clothes were soaked in dirt and blood. It was time to go home.

             I took an alternate route, drove through less crowded streets back home to avoid traffic and people.  As soon as I walked in my apartment I threw myself in the couch and sobbed. I was trembling, my thoughts were uncontrollably racing.  I had blood on my hand, the perfect excuse for a smoke.  As legitimate as the opportunity was to buy a pack, it was not wise to do so, I was too transparent to appear in public. Miserably I ransacked the apartment, smudged blood and dirt everywhere until I found one cigarette inside the vase filled with silk flowers on the shelf. I lit the cigarette and took a deep therapeutic puff. After a few minutes after I managed to compose myself and collect my thoughts, I took the crumbled papers out of my pocket.

             The pages were numbered; I read the page one of five. On top it read:  “Missing Person Information”. The long form was meticulously filled out.

         “The missing person was last seen in a beige corduroy jacket with light brown quilted lining.” The form read.  The missing person’s name, address, age and physical characteristics were all typed in. The physical description of the victim exactly matched the man I’d killed in the woods and today’s date was the day he was last seen.  

         “Write in your own words how it happened.” His voice was rasping my brain. How could I not fulfill his last request?  I grabbed a pen and wrote the ending of the missing man story.